Yesterday, countless people who apparently feel an extreme, perhaps psychotic, level of desire for hamburgers stood on line at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. They were there to celebrate the international corporate chain's tenth anniversary. In a line that snaked and looped upon itself, stretching for blocks, they waited for as long as six hours.
Their prize? A hamburger. But not just any hamburger, a special one made by a chef named Humm. It was thus known as the Humm Burger.
"It's got truffles on it," one young woman explained as she massaged her aching calves five hours into the waiting marathon. "Shaved black truffle! And gruyere! And applewood bacon! Only $8.50!"
But there had to be more to it, right? Why would anyone wait in line for six hours just for a burger, as tasty and special as that burger might be? Do they want to be part of something, a shared experience? "I don't care about being part of something," said the young woman, "I just want that burger!"
On the portable soundstage, a clean-cut band of young men played
up-tempo pop songs about love. The lead singer announced, "This is a
momentous occasion. Ten years of delicious food!" Young folks played
ping pong or waited in yet more lines--one line for hot dogs and another
line for birthday cake.
A guy standing in line, close to the burger stand, the promised land, offered to sell his spot for $100. "I'll even throw in a hand-job!" No one took him up on it.
A man working for the park changed the bags in the garbage cans, hauling
away the Shake Shack refuse. "I can't figure it out myself," he said.
"I never tried the burger. Some people I work with, they tried the
burger. Said it's nothing special. Nothing worth waiting in line for. In
my neighborhood, I can get a burger, too."
Then a grizzled man appeared by the fountain with a sign and an amplifier. He held up the sign, "Fracking = Death," and spoke into a microphone, saying, "We are apathetic as a country" and "Despite what you may think, New York City is not a corporation."
He asked people to pay attention to fracking and bring food to the hungry, but no one paid attention. A park ranger quickly interrupted and forced him to be quiet and move along. Unlike the thousands of people in line, he wasn't blocking any traffic.
Back at the end of the line, the acolytes were given the tragic news that the Humm
burger, with its coveted truffles, had sold out. But this was no
deterrent. "We'll wait for the regular burger," the people exclaimed. And they continued to wait.
Through the cake line, now stretched across the entire southern length of the park, came a ripple of excitement. The chef himself! Dominique Ansel, creator of the cronut, master in the dark art of getting people to wait in ridiculous lines, walked through, meeting and greeting, pressing the flesh, posing for photos as if he were the Pope. Girls squealed with delight and clicked selfies.
A group of young German tourists sat on a park bench, watching the whole scene with their mouths hanging open in disbelief. "This is crazy," said the young man. "They wait six hours? For a burger? We don't do this is Germany." The young woman added, "We wait in line for a concert, but that's an hour only, and it's to see a show, something that lasts, with memories. This--eating a burger--it's for a few minutes and then it's over. I don't understand."
They shook their heads. The young woman asked, "These people in line are all tourists, right? New Yorkers would never do this."
"Unfortunately," I told them, "this is what New Yorkers do now."
They looked confused. They asked where they could get a good burger and I directed them to Old Town Bar, a few blocks away, where there are delicious burgers in a real New York setting--and no lines.